When I received the inspiration to start The Big Drum In The Sky Religion, I knew that I had received an inspiration. It was not at all like the beginning of other bands I was in before, all of which started with two or three people sitting around and somebody saying “Hey, we should start a band.” For every time that happened and a band got started, there were at least ten that resulted in nothing. With BDSR, I knew in a flash what I was supposed to do. The Spirit(s) told me to do it, but they didn’t give me very clear instructions as to exactly how to go about it, so BDSR got off to a slow start. There were a couple jam sessions with people who I didn’t mesh with and then I got interested in an anarchist free space downtown and started looking around there for possible band members. A few trust-fund radicals seemed interested in banging on pots and pans and the non-organizers of the space were open to the idea of a show so that’s how the first couple shows happened. I set up a four-track for the second show and BDSR’s first release, Humanity Won’t Be Happy… came out of it. Obviously, that title was somewhat inspired by the crowd of anarchists I was associating with at that time.
The anarchists were not thrilled about the release. They felt that I had taken too much initiative and had left them out of the process, which I had deliberately done because I was in a hurry to get something put out and didn’t want to have to sit around and listen to a bunch of upper-class, white college kids yammering on and on about consensus process and twinkling at each other. I agreed to include them in the decision-making if they would do some of the work for the next release, which they said was cool but, because they were anarchists, they seldom did anything they said they were going to do including come to practice or shows. Gradually, they all either pissed me off enough that I told them they were out or they wandered off and got knocked up or started dumpster-diving collectives or went to work for their fathers’ Fortune 500 companies or whatever it is that anarchists do. One of them literally wandered off during a show. She just put her guitar down, walked off the stage and out the door. I didn’t ask why. Ever since I got rid of the anarchists, there has been no illusion on anyone’s part about BDSR being a democracy. There are no votes.
Still, I was kinda shocked when Love referred to me as “the band leader”. For a moment, I wanted to argue, but then I realized it was true. I am the band leader. It still seems weird.
My leadership style is, like my style in general, somewhere between wu wei and agus fagamid suid mar ata se, the former of which is Chinese for “no doing” and the latter of which is Irish and roughly translates as “it’s fine, leave it the way it is.” In practice that means that I don’t do much leading. For the first couple years, I tried to get people interested in participating in BDSR shows. I guess I still do that sometimes, if somebody seems like they’d bring something special to the mix. Mostly though, these days, people come up to me and say they’d like to sit in. Not many people do that, but it does happen. I haven’t been approached by many people I felt compelled to say “no” to. A few people, beyond the aforementioned anarchists have been invited to stop participating, or I just stopped telling them when/where shows were going to be. That’s most of what I do as band leader – tell people when/where shows are going to be. Somebody usually shows up to play. Sometimes, one of the regulars shows up with a friend who wants to sit in, which is coolIf they don’t, I play solo. It’s usually better if there are other people, but I’ve played alone enough times to’ve figured it out.
I usually have some idea of what I’m doing when I go on stage. At least, I know what tuning I’ll be using and what mode I intend to play. I have offered to share that information with other people, just in case they were interested in being in a related key or something, but most of the people who sit in with BDSR are good enough musicians to not need to be told, or are good enough noisicians to not give a fuck, so they usually don’t want to know, which is fine with me. I record all shows and most of them get worked into a release somehow. I try to get a copy of every release to everybody who appears on it, but sometimes people move away and don’t give me an address or respond to emails. Some of the people who have been involved seemed to have no interest whatsoever in the recordings. Almost nobody who has been involved has been seriously invested in the promotion of religion/myth. Some of them may not have even known that that was part of the agenda. Certainly, I’m totally open about it and enjoy talking about that kinda stuff and I do have a blog about it, so they could’ve known, but most of ‘em seemed like they just wanted a way of making some crazy music from time to time, either because they didn’t have time to commit to a full-time band or because they liked to freak out once in a while and their full-time band didn’t include that. I doubt that anybody would’ve been opposed to it; I think they just didn’t care.
We don’t practice. One line-up did get together and practice a couple times, but then that fizzled out. I’d like to have a core group that practiced regularly, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. People have jobs and kids and stuff. One of my earlier bands got together and jammed at least once a week for a few years and some serious synchronicity developed. We would turn on a dime with no plans and no communication except for our collective brainstorming. That got to be pretty amazing at times and then the bass player moved to Chicago and the band was over. That guy, Joshu Mu, is a participant in BDSR, though he doesn’t show up on many recordings. Italian Ice, another long-time member, lives in Peru right now. Those two are people in my life above and beyond BDSR, so I got no doubt they’ll continue to be involved from time to time. Zooanzoo and Sprit Bear have a band of their own, Medicine Calf, and they both take off to live in other places for months at a time, but they seem pretty into BDSR, together or separately, when one or both of ‘em is around. Drummer Boy doesn’t seem likely to drop out or move away anytime soon. There are other people who may or may not be involved again, I dunno, it depends. My daughter, Spotted Opossum, will be on a few more releases, I’m sure, and may perform live one day.
The whole band leader thing, though. It weirds me out. I don’t see myself as a “leader” type of person. I’m not much of a follower, either. Mostly I just stumble along, optimistically cynical and vaguely curious about what’s going to happen next. It’s not that I’m opposed to giving directions: I have and will give directions if somebody asks, but they’ll be kinda vague, like “Play in ‘D’ then find your way up to ‘G’. Try to think about human sacrifice while you’re doing it.” It’s just that I’m more interested in what will happen if people go out on a stage with no specific plan and start doing something. The possibilities are almost limitless and usually more spectacular than anything I would’ve come up with if I’d bothered to come up with something and if I did bother to come up with something, there’d be the danger of me being attached to it in which case I’d have trouble letting go of it and following along with somebody else who didn’t listen when I explained what I’d come up with and was going off in some whole other direction. This is something that took me several years to really comprehend: no idea is better than some idea.
The downside is that some people can’t or won’t just do it. Some guy came up to me as we were setting up for a show one time and told me that he’d like to sit in with us. He said he had his steel guitar and amp out in the truck. I tried to explain that what we were going to do might be a little odd. He said he was down for anything – “rock’n’roll, country, whatever”. I love a good steel guitar so I told him to get his gear. During the show, I was focused on multiple things at once, and the medicine hat impairs my vision somewhat, so I didn’t know what his real time response was and it isn’t unusual for me to not be able to analyze what I’m hearing when I’m playing so I had no idea what the guy did. The drummer, Love Buzzard again, told me later he’d been watching the guy and that he didn’t do anything, just sat there behind his steel guitar, frozen, perhaps mortified, maybe sickened, which is too bad. He couldn’t’ve done anything wrong if he’d done anything. I did some recordings with a short pianist once. She was classically trained and all that, but the poor girl could not improvise. I kept trying to explain it to her and she kept saying “But what do you want me to play?” Finally I just asked her play some Beethoven and then I processed the shit out of it later. Improv, like abstract expressionism, only seems easy to people who have never tried to do it.
When I’m at my best and everything falls together, I lead like the fastest berserker. Wow, I really dig that image – the first bearskin-wearing, sword waving maniac on the field of battle, loincloth and medicine hat, screaming the BDSR spiritual battlecry “Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead”, hacking at anybody within range, friend or foe. However, I am seldom at my best and most of the time I would much rather show up, suit up and kinda hang around, stage right, buzzing away on one fuzzed chord and let some other fool lead.
Agus fagamid suid mar ata se.